PAUSE IT: What do you see? Jill Rosen (Rosanna Arquette), a young woman at a school assembly, peers out at us from the center of a crowd. Dressed plainly in a 1960s style plaid outfit, she draws our focus immediately to her eyes and her thoughts. How is this striking effect achieved? Arquette’s expression is the same as the surrounding preoccupied teens, but despite this our gaze is fixed on only her. Writer-Director John Sayles, often more heralded for his talents as an author, shows off his acumen as a visual stylist in his coming-of-age drama Baby It’s You (1983). By setting the camera at eye level and centering his actress in the middle of the frame, Sayles helps to identify her as our story’s protagonist. This orchestration of mise-en-scène—actors, camera, lights, props, and color—in a single frame is the craft of direction in its most subtle splendor.

Baby It’s You (1983)
Director: John Sayles
Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus
Cast: Rosanna Arquette, Vincent Spano, Robert Downey, Jr., Matthew Modine, Joanna Merlin, Liane Curtis
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.